Do you have a passion for the stage? Spend lots of time at the theatre? You might find yourself thinking of a career in the industry but how do you get there when you have lots of drive and enthusiasm yet are lacking in the experience department? Here are our top tips for kick-starting your career in stage lighting.
Shadow a lighting designer
The first step, which may also seem the most obvious is to shadow someone in the industry. How else do you expect to learn if you haven’t had a chance to see what’s involved from start to finish. Whether it’s a small production or on a larger scale, try to find a lighting designer who will be happy to let you shadow them during set-up or simply talk you through the steps involved in setting up the lighting for a production. Most lighting designers will let you shadow them or you could sign up to the Association of Lighting Designers for additional support. With student memberships costing as little as £30 a year you can browse the directory of lighting designers, find out about performances and see issues raised by current members.
Top tip: when reaching out to lighting designers, make it personal and ensure you have a reason for selecting this designer from all others. Do they have a particular lighting style, have you seen their work beforehand? Make it known to them you have done your research.
Build relationships in the industry
If you have already shadowed a lighting designer, had a work placement or have a little experience in the industry then great, you will have some contacts. If you haven’t, it’s important to build relationships as early on in your career as possible as quite often, future jobs will come from recommendations and if you are committed, passionate and enthusiastic from the get-go (and known for this) it will stand you in good stead further on in your career.
In a way, lighting design could be compared to photography. Your people skills are incredibly important as there is a lot of chatting with others on the stage production team and negotiating to be done often in time-conscious, stressful situations. You will often be stretched to your limits and so it’s great to build these skills early on in your career.
Visit other theatres for creative inspiration
Lighting isn’t all about turning up at the last minute and adding your technical lighting expertise – it’s about creativity too and it’s important to give yourself time before every production for creative thoughts and analysis. Also, observing the world around you and building a visual reference store is a great idea where you can dip into for years to come. Visiting other theatres, performances, galleries and looking at imagery can boost your creativity too and helps to understand how lighting is used in different ways.
Secure a placement
When you have spent some time shadowing a lighting designer in the industry, built relationships and feel ready to progress, it’s time to volunteer at your local theatre or look for your first placement. Looking for your first placement is similar to how you will have reached out to lighting designers in the beginning and we have some tips for during your first placement.
- Keep a production diary – even the smallest of details can be interesting and what you might think is irrelevant could help you later in your career. Note down any questions in your production diary and ask these during any breaks you have (don’t forget to keep a note of the answers too).
- It’s good to get a chance to listen on the headset – this will help you to hear what is being done and why.
- Offer to be an extra pair of eyes – often looking from above or from the sides can identify lighting issues and putting yourself in the audiences shoes can be helpful to the production team.
During your experience we suggest using your breaks wisely. Chat to others on the production team and find out what they do. You may love the theatre and think lighting design is the be all and end all but you might realise you would be better suited to another role within the theatre (sound, production or costume for example). We hope this gives you an overview of how to begin a career in stage lighting and keep an eye out for more of our industry tips over the coming months.